Island-Hopping in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands + How to Get Around on the Northern Group Islands
Far-flung more than a thousand kilometres away from the Cook Islands’ capital, Rarotonga, the islands of the Northern Group are scarcely explored by tourists. That may be because getting to the Northern Group is neither cheap nor easy. There are rarely any scheduled flights to the Northern Cook Islands, while the cargo ships don’t exactly have a schedule. This leaves the Northern Cook Islands accessible to only the most determined travellers taking a trip of a lifetime via chartered jet or on one of the few island-hopping tours to the Northern Group that depart each year. Once you arrive at your chosen Northern Group island, your host will look after all of your other transport needs, whether it be boat tours on the lagoon or exploring the island by scooter.
Find out how to get to the Northern Group, as well as how to get around once you get there, in this complete Northern Cook Islands transport guide!
For more tips on exploring the Northern Group, check out The Complete Travel Guide to the Northern Cook Islands.
1. Scheduled Flights to the Northern Group – How to Get to the Northern Cook Islands
The only Northern Group island with scheduled domestic flights is Manihiki. Flights are available with the Cook Islands’ sole domestic airline, which flies every other Tuesday from Rarotonga to Manihiki taking approximately 4h30mins. The flight is typically in a small eight-seater propeller plane.
The cost of flights to Manihiki, as well as more information, are updated in Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flights.
2. Charter Flights to the Northern Group – How to Get to the Northern Cook Islands
One of the easiest, fastest yet most expensive ways to get to the Northern Cook Islands is to charter a flight. The Cook Islands’ domestic airline offers charter flights in their six-seater or 34-seater jet planes. Charters depart from Rarotonga and travel to any of the inhabited Northern Group islands with an airstrip: Manihiki, Penrhyn and Pukapuka. The flight time from Rarotonga to any of these islands is approximately 2h30mins. Customised itineraries, visiting each of the islands stated above, can be made to do some island-hopping.
Discover more details about charter flights to the Northern Group in our guide, How to Hire a Plane in the Cook Islands: A Guide to Plane Charters.
3. Guided Island-Hopping Tours – How to Get to and Around the Northern Cook Islands
Available just a few times a year, Island Hopper Vacations offers guided tours of the Northern Group. The tour visits Pukapuka, Manihiki then Penrhyn, usually over five days and four nights (but three-night packages have been available in the past). Transport is via private jet departing Rarotonga, making the journey approximately 2h30mins to Pukapuka, then around 20 minutes in between the other Northern Group islands. The packages are all-inclusive: accommodation, meals, airfares, airport transfers and a tour guide are included.
4. Cargo Ship – How to Get to the Northern Cook Islands
Cargo ships for the Northern Group depart Rarotonga every 2-2.5 months, transporting supplies and a few people in the cabins available. Cargo ships in the Cook Islands are notoriously unpredictable, rarely stick to a schedule and are subject to constant delays (if we may be so candid). The voyage to the Northern Group takes several days, depending on which islands are stopped at first. Islands accessible by cargo ship include Penrhyn, Rakahanga, Manihiki and Pukapuka. If your heart is set on the adventure and you have the time to spare, reach out to Taio Shipping at the Avatiu Wharf on Rarotonga to organise your voyage.
More information can be found in our Cook Islands Cargo Ship Guide: How to Use the Ferry for Interisland Travel in the Cook Islands.
5. Sailing Yacht – How to Get to and Around the Northern Cook Islands
The Northern Cook Islands aren’t as popular a sailing ground as other South Pacific nations, but those with a private yacht have access to some of the more secluded Northern Group islands. The best islands set up for yachties are Suwarrow and Penrhyn. Penrhyn is an official port of entry to the Cook Islands. Although Suwarrow is not an official port of entry in the Cook Islands, you are technically still allowed to anchor at Anchorage Island if you have provided a “Cook Island border agencies application for marine craft to arrive at or depart from a place outside of a designated Customs port” application via email.
Learn more about visiting the Cook Islands via yacht in our Sailing Guide to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Tips for Yachting in the Cook Islands.
6. Inter-Island Boats – How to Get to and Around the Northern Cook Islands
There are two islands in the Northern Group that are accessible by “ferries” from neighbouring islands: Rakahanga and Nassau.
Most get to Rakahanga by taking a boat/ferry from Manihiki. There is no “schedule” for the ferry; it is arranged when the demand is there and when the weather conditions are calm enough. The journey between the two lagoons is 42km (26 miles) taking approximately two hours.
The only way to get to Nassau is via Pukapuka. There are unscheduled boats running between the two islands, which are best organised once you arrive in Pukapuka. The trip is 88km (55 miles) and takes approximately three hours.
7. Scooter Rental – How to Get Around the Northern Group Islands
The most available vehicles to rent on the islands of the Northern Group are scooters (mopeds). Accommodation hosts on the islands can typically arrange scooter rentals for the day, allowing you to explore larger islands that are otherwise too difficult to explore on foot, such as in Penrhyn and Manihiki. Rentals typically include fuel, as there are no conventional fuel stations on the islands.
8. Boat Tours – How to Get Around the Northern Group Islands
Most of the islands in the Northern Group are coral atolls with lots of islets lining a lagoon. Accommodation hosts can typically arrange informal tours of their lagoon with a local boatie, fisherman or themselves. These tours are typically for you, so you can usually let your guide know what you’d like to do, such as snorkelling, and they’ll take you to a good snorkelling spot, for instance. They may also take you fishing and island-hopping between different “motu” (islets).
9. Airport Transfers – How to Get Around the Northern Group Islands
All of the airstrips in the Northern Cook Islands just have a hut at the airport: no bathrooms, no ATMs and no other facilities. Wherever you stay, you will be met by your accommodation host when you arrive from your flight. You will be transported to your accommodation usually via boat or on foot, typically with a bulldozer (no, we’re not kidding), quad bike or whatever other vehicle is on hand to carry your luggage.
More About Northern Cook Islands Transport and Getting Around the Northern Group
That’s it for our guide to Northern Cook Islands transport with the ways to get around the Northern Group, as well as how to get to the Northern Group. If you have more questions about travelling around the Northern Cook Islands, check out the following guides:
- Cook Islands Transport Guide: 15 Best Ways to Get Around the Cook Islands
- How to Drive in the Cook Islands + 10 Road Rules You Need to Know
- How to Get a Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Scooter License
Finally, see where your transport can take you with our itineraries: The Best Cook Islands Itineraries for 2 Week, The Best Cook Islands Itineraries for 10 Days and The Best Cook Islands Itineraries for 1 Week.